On my office wall I keep a quote from the great literary theorist Northrop Frye. It reads in part: “…the arts have something to teach beyond themselves, a way of seeing and hearing that nothing else can give, a way of living in society in which the imagination takes its proper central place.
“Just as the sciences show us the physical world of nature, so the arts show us the human world that man is trying to build out of nature. And, without moralizing, the arts gradually lead us to separate the vision of the world we want to live in from the world that we hate and reject…”
I always return to this quote when I feel dispirited about the work I do, as it reminds me of the broader principle and the experiential wealth I have inherited through my exposure to the arts. Arts, culture and heritage are often viewed in terms of the “nice to have, but not essential” category, particularly when it comes to the matter of funding, but as Frye reminds us, the arts have a much more significant and intrinsic meaning that is often overlooked in the bottom-line mentality.
Because the arts engage us on both an emotion and intellectual level, we learn more about ourselves — our motivations, prejudices, assumptions — and through the self-examination it provokes, we learn to take a new view on the world.